You’ve read it over and over, set goals, write them down and you’ll achieve success. And yet, you haven’t reached many of your goals… It’s frustrating enough to make you give up the idea of goal setting altogether.

Don’t throw in the towel just yet. There’s still help. It isn’t that goal setting doesn’t work, it’s that we usually aren’t effective in the way that we set goals. With a little help, you can be well on the way to crushing every goal you set.

Now, this is where most posts are going to jump in and tell you about SMART goals. Ya, ya, you’ve read all about those too. I’m not going to beat that horse anymore. Yes, SMART goals are important but it’s not all there is to an effective goal setting program. Not sure what SMART goals are? You can read more about them here.

So where is it, that most goal-setting programs go wrong?

Most goal setting programs only focus on helping you to make sure that whatever goal you choose, it is well phrased for success. They don’t focus on whether or not it is even the right goal in the first place!

You Aren’t Really Ready

The number one reason we don’t achieve a goal is that we aren’t ready to achieve the goal we have chosen. Dr. Phil talks about the four stages of readiness for change. Without knowing that we are truly ready to achieve the goal we are setting, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Stage 1:  Compelled by Authority
This is the very first stage of change in which a person does not really know or believe they have a problem.  Authority may be one of many different figures such as a doctor or a boss. If change occurs at this level, it rarely stays long.  Once the authority has turned their back and stopped paying attention, the behavior returns.

Stage 2: Comply to Escape Criticism
The second stage involves a bit more choice for the change.  At this stage, the person needing the change may be experiencing criticism from any of a number of sources including friends, family, peers, society, religious leaders, media, etc…  Tired of the nagging they are feeling, they decide to change.

Unfortunately, change at this level is not significant or long lasting either.  Once a person feels the criticism diminish, they fall back into old patterns easily.

Stage 3: Intellectually Aware of the Need for Change
At this stage, a person will begin to realize for themselves, that there is a need to change.  They may begin to notice warning signs or side effects that are unpleasant.

While they may have seen these things previously, they might not have attributed them to the actual issue.  An overweight person may start to notice shortness of breath, swelling of the ankles, an inability to perform tasks that were previously simple to do.

Someone who tends to think negatively may now discover that their friends want to spend less and less time with them and they are unable to get a better job.

When change occurs at this stage, it may still be temporary.  The individual making the change is attempting to treat the symptoms more than to address the underlying concern.

Stage 4: Mentally and Emotionally Self-motivated for Change
Once a person has reached stage 4, lasting change is likely to occur.  An individual can’t be made to reach this stage but must come to it on their own.

This is the stage when a person is sick and tired of being the way they are.  They not only know intellectually but feel emotionally, the strains that their behavior is causing on themselves and others around them. At this point, a  person may not know what it takes to change, but they are willing to do WHATEVER it takes.  They will commit and not stop despite any and all barriers that have previously held them back as well as any new barriers they have never faced before.  At this stage, a person is on a mission and nothing is going to stop them.

What’s the difference? 

The difference between stage 3 and stage 4 is one of emotional readiness.  A person can spend years at a point where they know logically and intellectually that they should make a change but never reach that point of being emotionally ready to do anything to make it happen.

All of the nagging, convincing, external motivation, punishments, rewards and every other trick in the book is not effective at moving someone from stage 3 to stage 4.

Only when you have reached stage 4 can you truly count on reaching your goals.

Conflicting Priorities

Another reason we often fail to achieve our goals is that we set too many goals, causing our priorities to conflict with one another. While it is OK to have more than one goal, they should always be prioritized with only one goal being at the top of the list.

I once had a client who had a goal to get physically fit and a goal to get out of debt. One day she was faced with the decision to get a gym membership because the weather didn’t allow her to keep running outside.

While the membership would help her to move closer to her goal of getting fit, it would also move her away from her goal of getting out of debt. She had to make a choice.

Another time this client was faced with a choice between signing up for a half marathon or paying extra on her credit card bill. The half marathon would help keep her accountable to her fitness goal but she chose to pay the extra on the credit card bill.

Without a clear priority to your goals, you can spin your wheels going in different directions while trying to make progress on all of them. A better solution would be to know which goal takes priority first, second and so on.

For my client, it was a matter of knowing that paying off her debt came first. Then, when faced with decisions that required more money than she had planned, she could instantly say no even if it helped her with her secondary goal of getting fit.

Stop going back and forth between goals and set your priorities.

Once you know you are truly ready and that the goal you have chosen is your TOP priority, THEN you can count on and expect to reach your goals. Until then, they are only hopes and dreams.